Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/31/13
Sometimes, fans and players are more akin than they care to realize.Although the life of Tom Brady bears very little similarity to that of your typical nine to five football fan, they’ve likely shared many of the same thoughts over the past few weeks. And no, that’s not a reference to Gisele Bundchen. Get your mind out of the gutter.The communal sentiments we’re concerned about have to do with a return to the gridiron, and to the football-filled Sunday afternoons that will soon become a weekly standard. As the days get closer, the craving for professional football continues to grow exponentially.Whether you’re an employee of the league or a fanatic that keeps it in business, the summer months are a relatable form of torture. Even those who have never allocated a dime towards an entity related to the National Football League (which is a travesty) are bound to feel the hurt, if only by proxy. In August, coworkers and classmates seem even more disinterested than usual. Friends and family are lukewarm when it comes to getting together on weekends. Spouses spend hours a day scouring media outlets, consuming random bits of news that are the internet equivalent of an empty banana peel.When a new football season begins, society wins. The rhyme is nice, and the wisdom imparted by the saying is even better. Never underestimate the repercussions of the domino effect, especially when the results are positive.The Cincinnati Bengals represent a mere cross-section of football’s tantalizing total product, but they continue working round-the-clock in the hopes of finishing as more than just another name in the fray. Their documented exodus on HBO’s Hard Knocks is nearing its close, only one preseason game and a bit of roster trimming are needed before the real work can begin. Game time is right around the corner, and for those who can lock up a roster spot, it promises a much-needed return to prominence.We’ll try to avoid hyperbole while we review the exploits from episode four of Hard Knocks.Big Hits: The team ventured out to Springboro High School to hold their final public practice. The stands were packed and the players seemed loose, but the actual performance was nowhere near what many would have expected. Backup quarterbacks Josh Johnson and John Skelton combined to drop three snaps over the course of a few hours and there were plenty of other botched opportunities on all phases. Andy Dalton has never dropped a snap in three years as a Bengal, and so offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was understandably incensed by the sloppy play under center. Gruden also dropped a healthy handful of f-bombs after using very little coarse language in the first three episodes. The incident marked the first time that multiple members on the team were cast in a bad light at the same time in an otherwise successful month of camp. Since this is the only real piece of negative news in a while, don’t read into the wayward afternoon to a significant extent.James Harrison fans were likely disappointed by his lack of appearances throughout the hour, so it was nice that he was a prominent figure in his few instances on screen. Fellow LBs J.K. Shaffer and Jordan Campbell engaged in an arm-wrestling battle to end their debate regarding which was stronger. After several seconds, Campbell emerged victorious, but Harrison wouldn’t let the undrafted free agent hog the spotlight for long. Soon enough, Campbell was gearing up for his second bout, and to keep a short story short, he ended the day with as a .500 arm-wrestler. This one wasn’t close, either. Harrison ended the sequence as grand champion, waving his arms and slinging profanities to punctuate his status. Perhaps a team-wide arm-wrestling tournament is in order; just imagine Harrison’s reaction if he lost.Preseason week three started off well on all fronts, but the crisp play would did not last long. By and large, the starters left much to be desired in what is widely considered a one half dress rehearsal for the regular season. Andy Dalton surrendered a pick and failed to tally a touchdown while his counterpart, Tony Romo, gathered a pair of scores en route to a stately 131.0 Passer Rating. A.J. Green looked fluid in his return (!) to the field, coming within half a heel of cashing in on a touchdown grab from Dalton in the first quarter. The end result saw the Cowboys hold serve at home with a 24-18 victory, which undoubtedly caused a wave of mild panic to sweep through the city of Cincinnati. Week three of the practice season is like the step Uncle of the actual season; they’re related, but not by blood. The loss, much like the poor day of practice, is nothing more than a blip on the radar.Jordan Dalton (Andy Dalton’s wife, for the slow-reacting) was given a brief tryout as this season’s version of Lauren Tannehill when she was wired for sound against the Cowboys. The female Dalton’s support of the game was average, at best, and it seems unlikely that she lined up any additional speaking roles in the process. Not that J-Dalt (catchy, eh?) was an utter sieve on screen, but she hardly measures up to this kind of image in America’s eyes. In this writer’s opinion, the Lauren Tannehill love is overblown, though I understand that I stand with the minority on that topic. Sorry Jordan, tough act to follow.Incompletions: In an absolutely shocking development, Giovani Bernard was kept completely out of the limelight. Bravo to HBO for taking a break from their constant campaign to ram Gio down viewers’ throats as the feel good player of the year. Let the man prove his worth by doing his job on Sundays, not talking about his van on Tuesdays.Marvin Lewis, where art thou? The head man has garnered time in every episode so far, but he has yet to reveal any meaningful information about his players or his life off the field. Head coaches are secretive by nature, and so the coordinators once again picked up Lewis’ administrative slack. Not that Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden are dull by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just interesting to see that they are completely independent their boss when the cameras are rolling.King Of The Jungle: DeQuin Evans gets an ultra-tentative nod this week. Evans was the recipient of a nice feel-good segment partway through the action which earned him status as a player worth rooting for going forward. The three-year veteran talked earnestly about how football redeemed his otherwise directionless life- he mentioned that he only attended school in his later years in order to stay eligible to play football. In an unfortunate and untimely turn of events, Evans was handed an eight game ban for breaching the league’s PED policy less than 48 hours after his story aired. Evans has held onto a roster spot with the Bengals as roster filler for three consecutive seasons, but now stands as little more than dead weight as a backup who can only participate in half of the season.Leading Longshot: Evans was primed to take a lead over previous co-leaders Terrence Stephens and Jayson Dimanche, but he’s as likely to make an impact on the Bengals this season as he is to win the lottery without buying a ticket. That is to say he’s is as good as gone. Neither the talented Dimanche nor the vocally-savvy Stephens broke away as the top longshot, and there’s still plenty of room for a last second charge from a last-second dark horse candidate. Next week, we’ll crown a longshot champion. At present, the percentage split to win the title stands at 40% for Dimanche, 35% for Stephens and 25% for the field. This is anyone’s race to win, folks.Episode Grade: B minus: In short, there wasn’t a whole lot of intrigue to be had. Some of the players are already well established on the show and are beginning to become stale and predictable. Plus, the team looked shaky for the first time this season, which doesn’t bode well from a television perspective (unless it causes drama to heighten). Those hoping for a further deterioration shouldn’t expect a professional franchise to devolve into a male version of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” just because they had a few bad practices.Next Week’s Episode-What To Expect: The roster will shrink from 75 to 53 in advance of the regular season. Surely, a few of the names with some emotional value will see their names among those cut. Positional winners will be decided, heads will roll. Next Tuesday’s episode is the fifth and last of the season, leaving five days until the Bengals kick off against the Bears to begin 2013.Bold Prediction: Quarterbacks Josh Johnson and John Skelton both keep spots on the roster. The duo of passers have been clawing tooth and nail for the second spot behind Andy Dalton all camp, and each brings interesting skills to the table that compliment Dalton’s repertoire. Marvin Lewis must realize that with Johnson’s speed and familiarity with the offense and Skelton’s combination of pocket presence and experience, his team can employ an extremely effective passing trio. As long as the financial terms aren’t outrageous, there’s no reason why Lewis should have to choose between two valuable reserve commodities.
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